Late in 1948 a group of local model engineering enthusiasts met to discuss the formation of a club to develop local interest in the hobby. As a result of this meeting the Weymouth and District Model Engineering Society came into being. In its early days the Society attracted some 14 members and, more important, gained the cooperation of the local education authority (at that time part of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Borough Council) which enabled the members to meet in the well-equipped workshop of the Cromwell Road Boys' School once a week.

 

During the Society's first year the members began the construction of a multi-gauge portable track on which members' live-steam model locomotives, of 2", 3½” and 5" gauges could be run. Discussions also took place on whether to build a steam locomotive as a Society project, and it was eventually agreed to begin the construction of a 5" gauge model based on a design by "LBSC" - the "Maid of Kent" - to be undertaken by those members having the appropriate skills and experience.

 

It was soon realised that the Society could not rely solely on members' subscriptions for its income to finance various club projects and, in 1950, it was decided to stage an exhibition of the Society's work to raise more funds. With the help of the Dorchester Model Engineering Society and the West Dorset Model Car Club, based in Bridport, this was held in August 1950 in the small Sidney Hall (alas, no longer in existence - replaced by the ASDA supermarket and its car park) and was opened by the then Mayor of Weymouth, Councillor H A Medlam. This exhibition was a great success and became the first of a tradition of annual exhibitions by the Society which was to last until 1970. The venue changed, however, and eventually settled in the Melcombe Regis School by Westham Bridge. This gave more space for inside exhibits and the school playground could be used for the portable steam track and demonstrations of control-line flying model aircraft by the Marquis Flying Club, a group of local enthusiasts.  

 

By 1954 the Society's activities had expanded and now supported a keen model railway group who started to build a large 00-gauge exhibition layout. It soon proved impossible to make much progress on such an ambitious project in the Cromwell Road workshop because of the limited working time available (only two hours per week) and the model railway group began to look for alternative premises. Thanks to a suggestion and help from the Local Education Officer, the group was able to move into the one inhabitable room in the old Chapelhay School, which had been badly damaged by bombing during World War 2. Progress on the layout then accelerated as members were able to work on it every day if so inclined; so much so that, although far from complete, it was decided to include it in the 1955 exhibition.

 

The live steam group was also suffering from lack of workshop time in 1955, the "Maid of Kent" having reached the stage when steam trials would soon be needed. Fortunately the father of one of our younger members came to the rescue with the offer of a spare ground-floor room at the local Toc-H headquarters, together with the use of the garden. This offer was taken up and, after laying a concrete path in the garden, 60 feet of the portable track was erected for members' use and for trials and running-in of the "Maid of Kent". Until the "Maid of Kent" became operational, members' own locos had been used for passenger-carrying duties on the portable track and mention must be made of three in particular which bore the brunt of such work - a 3½" gauge model of LMS 6201 "Princess Elizabeth", another LBSC 3½" design "Maisie" based on the LNER Ivatt Atlantic loco and a freelance 3½" gauge model based loosely on the Southern Railway Maunsell "Schools" class.

 

The 1955 exhibition saw the new 00-gauge layout in operation, albeit without scenery, and the "Maid of Athens", as the club 5"-gauge loco had been named, was coping admirably with the passenger-hauling duties on the portable track. This exhibition also began what was to become a tradition for a few years - the opening ceremony was performed by the star of the summer show at the Weymouth Pavilion. In 1955 the comedian Derek Roy officiated and a picture of him at the controls of the model railway appeared in the local press. Among the celebrities who opened subsequent exhibitions were Charlie Drake and Bill Maynard - the latter enjoying a spell at the regulator of the steam loco on the portable track.

 

In 1957 the model railway group was dealt a body blow when the authorities decided to demolish the Chapelhay School and clear the whole area prior to redevelopment. A lucky meeting between one of the members and the local War Department Land Agent, however, resulted in the group being able to rent part of the guard-room block of the old Red Barracks, The group members all rallied round and, on Boxing Day 1957, all the group's equipment and the model railway were transferred from Chapelhay School to Red Barracks, which was to be home for the group until 1975.

 

With such a large model railway to be transported to the exhibition site every year, plus all the live steam equipment, when the opportunity arose to purchase a Bradford van which was to be pensioned off by a local trader, the Society decided to go ahead and become its new owner. This old vehicle earned its keep for many years, and was even re-bodied behind the cab to make it more suitable for carrying bulky items like the model railway.

 

To raise extra cash for the model railway group's projects, additional exhibitions were held in December for three years in the original venue ~ the small Sidney Hall - to capitalise on the appeal of model railways at Christmas time. These proved very popular with the Weymouth public but the strain of organising and staging two exhibitions each year proved too much for limited staff resources and the December exhibition was discontinued. With the passing of the years the 00-gauge model railway was showing signs of its age and becoming difficult to maintain and it was decided to begin construction of a replacement layout specifically designed for ease of transport and erection at exhibitions.

 

The live steam members were also looking ahead towards having a permanent, continuous track somewhere in the area. Fortunately we had as our President the Weymouth Borough Surveyor, the late A J (Jeff) Wallis, and he gave us much help by suggesting and surveying potential sites. Unfortunately none of these came to fruition but, eventually, a site at Yeates Corner on Portland was found and hired from the Stone Firms. In the meantime the live steam headquarters at the Toc-H HQ was given up in favour of renting an additional room in the guard room at Red Barracks and all the Society's activities then came together under one roof.

 

This enabled the live steam group to begin the design and construction of the components of a permanent track to be laid at Yeates Corner. This was an egg-shaped loop of multi-gauge track raised on concrete plinths (yes - more concrete mixing!) although this time the gauges were 3½", 5", and 7¼", the smaller 2 ½" being left out as the trend by now was towards making larger-scale models and the ½"-scale, 2½"-gauge models were becoming extinct. The track gave a continuous run of 400 feet and on completion we welcomed visiting members of many other model engineering societies to the opening day in 1967.

 

With the opening of the permanent steam track on Portland the distance between it and the clubroom at Red Barracks, Weymouth, was an inconvenience when it came to storing locomotives, fuel and other equipment after a running session and it was felt that the live steam group should look for suitable accommodation on Portland, as near to the track as possible. In due course a shed was found off Easton Lane, in the old Milverton's Lime Works. This provided a reasonable sized workshop only about 200 yards from the track and the live steam group emigrated there to become the Portland Branch of the Society, the model railway group becoming the Weymouth Branch.

 

From this point the activities of the two branches tended to diverge somewhat. The Portland Branch concentrated on weekend running on the permanent track and attending local fetes and rallies with the portable track. The construction of another steam locomotive was begun in the new workshop - a 7¼" gauge adaptation of "LBSC's" "Juliet", an outside-cylindered 0-4-0 tank loco – a simple but rugged model, admirably suited to heavy duty on the permanent and portable tracks and easy to maintain. This model was built as cheaply as possible, and no castings were employed - everything was fabricated from basic raw materials, even the cylinders. The proof of the pudding was in the eating, and this loco is still in active service after 25 years! In this time it has seen service all over Dorset at steam rallies, church and school fetes and Portland Navy Days as well as many Weymouth Carnivals.

 

The Weymouth Branch now concentrated on the construction of the new 00-gauge model railway 16 feet by 9 feet in size, with tracks on three levels. Designed to be easy to erect it had six baseboards each with built-in legs and it could be erected by three persons and in operation within two hours of delivery to an exhibition site. In the meantime the first layout had been dismantled and we had no layout for exhibition duty in the mid-1960s. Fortunately, by this time we had a good working relationship with the Poole and District Model Railway Society and we welcomed their exhibition model railway - "Milborne" - to Weymouth to hold the fort for a year until the new Weymouth layout was "exhibition-ready".

 

The Weymouth Branch had already been helping out at exhibitions staged by the Poole club and the old Bradford van was no stranger to the road from Weymouth to Poole. It had even earned our President's model railway to the first exhibition staged by the Poole and District Model Railway Society Anno Domini eventually caught up with the Bradford, however, and on one memorable occasion it broke its crankshaft while on a journey to Portland. While we were able to find another engine in a local car-breaker's yard, it was felt prudent to keep our eyes open for a replacement vehicle.

 

By now (early 1966) the Army had transferred Red Barracks to the Post Office, who used the premises as the local base for the telephone engineers- department and parking accommodation for its fleet of vehicles while the new Weymouth telephone exchange was being built. Fortunately the Post Office was willing to allow us to continue in residence in the guard room and the Weymouth Branch's activities continued without interruption.

 

This new landlord coming to the barracks turned out to have another advantage .an old Post Office 2-ton parcel delivery van was parked in the barrack square for some months and, after a few discreet enquiries, it was found to be on the disposal list. The Weymouth Branch put in a bid for the vehicle and, in September 1966, became its proud owner for the sum of £25. This van was ideal for carrying the new exhibition model railway, and suitable racking was designed and installed so that the whole of the layout and its associated equipment could be fitted into the van, enabling one journey to deliver the layout to any exhibition. With the acquisition of this new transport the Weymouth Branch was able to present its model railway at exhibitions further afield and, together with Poole and District Model Railway Society, exhibitions were staged at Lymington and Swanage over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend for several years.

 

Although the two Branches of the Society now led separate existences, they came together on numerous occasions when a large turnout of staff was needed, such as when the portable steam track had to be manned for an intensive session at fetes, rallies and, in particular, at Weymouth Carnival, and members of the Weymouth Branch were not averse to getting their hands dirty on the steam locos. Conversely, certain members of the Portland Branch had been seen at the controls of the model railway at exhibitions to give the Weymouth Branch members a break. During the 1960s, with the advent of club transport, vehicle maintenance had been added to the activities of the Weymouth Branch and some of the younger members served an apprenticeship that they had not anticipated when they joined the Society! One young member, in fact, became so keen that he built his own car, based on an Austin 7 chassis with a kit of body parts - all before he was old enough to pass his driving test! When completed, this car was seen on Southern Tele- vision being driven round the barrack square with its young builder at the wheel.

 

The Portland Branch, having equipped its workshop with a wide selection of old but serviceable machine tools, including a 5" Holbrook lathe and a full-size universal milling machine, now offered excellent facilities and numerous projects were undertaken by its members. A 7¼ “gauge freelance model of a BR diesel shunter was built around an old Royal Enfield 125cc motorcycle engine to share track duties with "Juliet". The portable track had been rebuilt some time ago and now was a around level track of only two gauges, 5" and 7¼", instead of its original format of 2½",3 ½"  and 5" gauges raised about 15" above ground. This rebuilt track was much easier to transport and was now some 120 feet in length.

 

Another blow to the Society came in 1970, when it was announced that Melcombe Regis School was to close, eventually to become Weymouth Museum. This meant that the 1970 exhibition was the last one the Society held on a large scale. Though the Portland Branch was able to raise funds by the use of its portable track at fetes etc, the Weymouth Branch now had to finance itself to maintain its clubroom. In 1968 several of the Branch members had gone off at a tangent and bought for preservation attired Southern National Bristol/ECW half-cab single-decker bus, fleet number 1613, which had been based at Weymouth for the last years of its life. This was parked alongside the clubroom at Red Barracks, with the consent of the Post Office, and, in 1971, it was decided to capitalise on the then fairly new bus preservation movement and stage a bus rally in Weymouth. 

 

1971 coincided with the 400th anniversary of the granting of Weymouth's charter, and the local council gave its wholehearted support to the idea, and allowed us to use the Lodmoor coach park for the rally and let the participating vehicles go on a road run to Southwell and back. The rally was an outstanding success, but meant a lot of work in its organisation, work which was very different from our previous experience of exhibition organisation, It was so successful that it kept the Weymouth Branch afloat financially and it was agreed to hold similar rallies in subsequent years. A new organisation, the Dorset Transport Circle, was formed to handle the administration, maintenance and running of 1613, albeit with many of its members drawn from the Weymouth Branch of the Society, and the two clubs co-habited the clubroom at the barracks until 1975, holding a bus rally each year to raise funds.

 

1975 saw another body blow dealt to the Society, however, when the Post Office gave the Society notice to quit the guard room prior to the barracks being sold for redevelopment. Interest in the development of the model railway had been waning for some time, since the cessation of exhibitions in Melcombe Regis School in fact, and it was decided after much discussion to wind up the Branch and dispose of its assets.

 

Since 1975, therefore, the Society has consisted solely of 'heavy engineering' enthusiasts based at Portland, struggling against rising costs and an ageing membership. Luckily two or three of the younger (relatively speaking!) members still manfully took the portable track with "Juliet" and the 'diesel' shunter to enough fetes and rallies to keep the Society solvent and in its workshop, where a new 7¼ " gauge loco was under construction. This was to a design by Ken Swan and was a model of "Peter Pan", the prototype being a 2-foot gauge contractor's loco.

 

In 1991, however, the owners of the Society's workshop sought an increase in rent that was high enough to cause the members to question whether the expense of a communal workshop could be justified. At a special general meeting of the membership it was decided that the workshop was an expensive luxury which was only being used by a few members and the decision was made to sell off the Society's equipment and give up the lease of the premises.

 

There was a glimmer of hope however, as one of our newer members was a teacher at the Purbeck School, in Wareham, and he was keen to develop an interest in model engineering among his students. To further his aim, and to give the Society a focus for its future activities, it was agreed to donate to the school all the track materials which had comprised the permanent track at Yeates Corner. This had been dismantled some years previously when the Stone Firms let the land for the construction of a skateboard park.

 

The portable track also went to Wareham, and "Juliet" and the 'diesel' loco went as well. As a result of this, the Purbeck School now boasts a ground-level 7¼" gauge track in its grounds, which has featured on Meridian Television, and many of the pupils - and their parents - enjoy developing and operating the Purbeck Miniature Railway. The manufacture of components for "Wren", the new Society loco, continued in the workshops of several members and of Purbeck School and, early in 1997, steam trials of the almost-completed loco were carried out on the Purbeck track. 

 

In the meantime the rump of the club continued to meet on a Tuesday night in the workshop on Portland Road of George Ellis.  Little was achieved during this period except to catch up on any local gossip.   Almost as if going back to our roots, some members started to engage with the local Weymouth schools to see if it was possible to establish links with them and to have access to a larger meeting room.  In 1995 the Head of Design Technology at Wey Valley School accepted the idea of club members coming into the school on a Tuesday evening and setting up a club night not just for members but also pupils of the school.  In time members of the Weymouth and Portland Model Boat also started to attend and before long, Tuesday evenings were busy and productive once again with many pupils from the school learning skills from the various club members.  The Club members set about building an elevated 5" and 3½" portable track and plans to build a permanent track around the school began to be hatched.  Once again the fragility of these arrangements came to the fore when the Head of DT took early retirement.  His replacement did not have the same level of commitment and when some members started erroneously to raises issues of health and safety, the writing came on the wall. 

 

The financial situation within the club was limited to membership fees only and therefore the prospect of funding any building activities was very limited.  In fact the club insurance bill ate up most of the annual income.  1998 marked the 50th anniversary of the club and so members decided that something had to be done both to mark the occasion and raise some much needed cash.  The local museum in Weymouth invited the club to hold an exhibition in their display room.  This offer was taken up, not least because it was a free venue.  The original plan was to hold the exhibition over the Easter period for 3 to 4 week.  Some 8 weeks later and with a four figure sum in the donation box, we were back in business.

 

 

In 2000 a new opportunity came for the club to once again rise out from the ashes as a new technology college was emerging out of the old Budmouth Comprehensive School.  Following an invitation to establish the club at Budmouth Technical College we once again found ourselves move lock, stock and barrel across town. 

 

With the active support of the school, the club was able to establish a rudimentary club house in a disused double garage donated by the school.  A new Technology Block had just been built and this formed the centre around which was built a ground level 7¼ and 5" track.  This was back breaking work as the ground was not level and the clay, of the hardest kind!  Nonetheless, after many months of toil the track was finally completed with embankments, a bridge and a station.  The “Wren” and “Juliet” had been returned from Purbeck College who by now had their own locos. 

 

The “Juliet” did sterling work at weekend on a very rough length of portable track but it earned us much needed cash. 

 

The small but dedicated band of club members then set about digging and cutting the new track bed through impossibly hard clay but eventually a complete loop was achieved around the new technology block.

 

As we neared completion, news leaked out that the school planned to extend the technology block and half the loop would have to be taken up and re-laid after the extensive building programme. This saw the demise of the embankment and bridge neither of which was deemed a lost as the garss cutting became easier and the new track had a solid 'cruch and run' base we pursuaded the builders to leave behind.

So, out with the shovels again but the result was a much longer and very usable track that was more of a challenge to drive than apparent at first sight. The north curve was tightened to a radius of 20' due to the new Sports Hall being placed a few metres out of intended alignment. This, coupled with a gradient of 1 in 30 at one point, would catch out the unwary driver who dared venture up the bank without a full head of steam!

 

The "Wren" and "Juliet" finally had their own track and in addition to provide the 'non-loco owning' club members a chance to drive, they provided a steady and much needed income on their outings to school fetes.

 

"Juliet" did sterling work at weekends on a very rough length of portable track which had started life as part of the club track retreievd from the former Portland Quarry club site. This track was eventually replace with lighter and more easier to assemble portable track in 2005.

 

Track-moving apart, the move to the College provided a period of welcome stability and mutual benefit during which facilities were added rather than rebuilt or taken away. Permission was granted to use the College workshop, and the Technology Block sprouted a small but heated and lit clubroom which on a cold winter's evening was light-years away from meeting in the garage. The kettle, microwave and loo make us feel very civilised! The garage by now had been relegated to storage duties but no matter how many times it was tidied and re-organised, never seemed to be quite big enough for everything it was required to contain. The track gained a passing loop with station platform and a turntable with steaming bays. An attempt was made to 'beautify' the otherwise sterile environment around the college building with the addition of shrubs most of which survived in the 'hostile' surroundings!

 

The development of the track brought about a wave of engine building and visitors. Members' projects seemed to get larger and more ambitious, with a large 4"-scale Quarry Hunslet and a Sweet William becoming regular performers and the occasional guest appearance of a Romulus. Nontheless the "Mighty" Wren remained the mainstay of the Club's fund-raising efforts.

 

By 2007 everything was running as smoothly as a well-oiled Myford. Membership numbers were stable at around 25 and there were regular Saturday steam-ups, plus a full programme of fetes using the portable track. Successful summer barbecues replaced the more formal Annual Club Christmas Dinner.

 

Another milestone was reached in 2008 with the Club 'Diamond Jubilee'. To mark this occasion the Club once again held a month-long exhibition at Weymouth Museum, Brewers Quay. At the AGM that year, the train well-and-truly hit the buffers again. A new Phase 1 of the College redevelopment programme would mean that half the track would have to be lifted while new building were erected adjacent to it. Uncertainty also existed as to how extensive the redevelopment was going to be and therefore whether the original track could or would ever be relaid. The Club once again entered a period of uncertainty.

 

The 2009 New Year's Day Steam-up with hot pies and mushy peas was a poignant affair, knowing that it would be the last on that track. And so, mobilising any Club Member who could wield a spanner, push a barrow or make a cuppa, the track was lifted in only a few hours on a cold Saturday just a few days later. The other half of the track remains for the time being, but playing "out-and-back branch lines" has little appeal for the members. The offer by the College of a piece of ground not due for immediate development lead to the calling of a Special General Meeting where a vote was take to take up this offer and once again prepared to move 'lock, stock, barrel and garage' to an overgrown ex-nature garden once used by the College science department. Age was now taking its toll on members but thanks to the loan of a JCB for a weekend, the overgrown site was cleared in double-quick time. Wood for shuttering, concrete slabs, topsoil and even a concrete mixer have been donated and the first concrete was laid on 2nd June 2009.

 

2009 also saw the arrival of 16mm guage railway into the Club. Dark cold Tuesday night in the Club House with nothing to do but to talk about but politics lead to the building of 16mm portable layout that can be used on-site or transported to outside events. While work continued on the modular track boards, several members embarked on in building locos, mainly to ubiquious 'Dennis' or 'Eric' designs. The question remains as to whether we are have a 1954 'deja-vu' moment, only time will tell.

 

 

To be continued …….. Back to Home page